'I think we had to earn the respect which we had lost' - Joe Connolly savours Galway's success

Joe Connolly was delighted to finally see another Galway man lift the Liam MacCarthy Cup.

Galway team celebrate with the Liam MacCarthy cup Galway players celebrate their victory. Source: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

IN 1980 GALWAY finally left the hurling wilderness.

It had been 57 long and painful years since their hurlers reigned supreme and the honour fell to Joe Connolly to hoist the Liam MacCarthy Cup into the air in Croke Park.

His memorable speech in Irish captured the enormity and the emotion of the occasion as Galway were crowned All-Ireland senior hurling champions.

Source: GAA Archive/YouTube

It kick-started a golden decade for Galway hurling with further victories ensuing in 1987 and 1988.

But then the barren years returned and Galway have had to wait until Sunday to enter the senior hurling winners enclosure once more.

Connolly yesterday reflected on his pride at Galway finally making the breakthrough, answering their critics and his hope for the county’s hurling future.

A breakthrough at last…

“​I think the stats is that since we won the last senior in 1988 that we had won 10 minors and six U21′s and 12 All-Ireland club championships. That’s mad stuff without winning an All-Ireland to back it up.

“It’s mad that it’s been that length of time for a start. (Final defeats in) ’01, ’05, ’93, ’12, ’15, it’s embarrassing like. Your heart is in your county, pride in your county and what pundits have said about us over the years, it’s demeaning for our lack of manliness to be questioned.

“Whatever about our ability, it absolutely grates me that people question that you pull this maroon jersey down over your head, that you’re not at a mental state like the big counties or the other counties.

“That’s what bugs more than anything and I hope to God that after Sunday’s performance, 12 games in a row of success, there might be a new breed of Galway hurler coming through.”

A win to answer the criticism…

“We absolutely had to. It’s our own fault in Galway, like, we have sat back and taken it. We have sleep-walked through about 30 years in Galway, I believe.

“We haven’t been at the races as regards preparation and whatever like that. We had to make a statement. We as past players would so gladly hand the laurels back to these.

“Galway Bay FM had a programme last Wednesday and there were five of us on it and Noel Lane was one of them. He made the comment that, ‘look who is up here; Joe Connolly, Conor Hayes, Cyril Farrell, Pete Finnerty, Noel Lane – we’re fed up of being the spokesmen for Galway hurling. We should be the teams that people longingly look back on in the past and say, “wasn’t it great”.’

“It’s for new generations to take over the mantle. It’s hurt greatly for the last decades to see the failures. I mentioned there the three years I was with the Galway team, our full-back line, the four that we picked from were; Damien Joyce, Shane Kavanagh, Fergal Moore and Ollie Canning.

“You couldn’t find finer men and it upsets me that their ilk and the others, for the last 30 years that have finished their careers, did so without winning an All-Ireland. I always love a team to have a day in the sun, as I hope Mayo will do on Sunday week.

“I think we had to earn the respect of the hurling counties on Sunday, I think we had to earn the respect which we had lost. I’m just in the soul glad that this question of our character was answered on Sunday.”

The difference in 2017…

“I think that Micheal Donoghue has brought a new mental toughness to the setup. I had two great confidences for Sunday; number one was that we had gotten consistency.

“I think Sunday was our 12th game in a row to win and secondly, Mícheál had brought Clarinbridge to an All-Ireland club final up here and by a mile the best performance by that Clarinbridge team was in the All-Ireland final, where you’d expect nerves and other teams to be a bother.

“We had lots of chats and stuff over the years before he ever got the job and you’d always think there’s something about this ​guy. I think we’re up there now with the best management that’s in it. It’s up to us now in Galway to put the structures in place so that this won’t be a one-off.”

What let down previous teams…

“We haven’t been ambitious enough, we haven’t been hungry enough in Galway. We’re a rich county, there’s plenty of employment in Galway, there’s two third-level institutions.

“We have superb structures in clubs. We have a quarter of a million of a population. We shouldn’t be picking up All-Ireland’s every 30 years and the reason we haven’t is that it’s our own fault.

“If our standard going forward, in both hurling and football, is excellence, then that’s what we need to have. We were long enough just happy with being middle and when you’re that way there isn’t a hope.”

Taking personal satisfaction from this victory…

“I did. I met David Burke Sunday night and I said, ‘welcome to the club, of All-Ireland winning captains from Galway, there’s only three of us alive’. This means an awful lot to me, this means an awful lot to Galway hurling people.

“Since the 1920′s, since we started winning All-Ireland’s, there’s only two decades that we haven’t won All-Ireland’s, in hurling or football, that’s the 40′s and the 70′s, and in both decades we were very unlucky.

“So as much as is said about Galway, and the criticism, we do keep coming back and I’m absolutely delighted that in this decade, the seventh year of this decade, we have this decade looked after as regards All-Ireland senior victories.

“That means a lot to us. We’re a proud county. ‘The West’s Awake’, that song is about Munster and Leinster coming together in the 13th century to fight against Connacht and we ran yee, through Curlew’s Pass and Ardrahan.

“We ran the Normans, which was ye lads from Munster and Leinster. It isn’t ‘lie down’ as regards Galway and I’m bloody glad that that manifested itself this year at Croke Park.”

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Fintan O'Toole

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